What in the Heavens is going on? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Ah. Now we’re getting into stuff that definitely sounds like it’s more in line with futurism. After all, surely none of this stuff happened in the 1st century. Right? What kind of stuff? Let’s look at Matthew 24:29
” Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
Years ago, Neil Degrasse Tyson sadly gave a more common reading of this passage.
“You know, one of the signs that the second coming, is that the stars will fall out of the sky and land on Earth. To even write that means you don’t know what those things are. You have no concept of what the actual universe is. So everybody who tried to make proclamations about the physical universe based on Bible passages got the wrong answer.“
Sadly, most churches today would accept this reading as well. After all, there’s supposed to be something sacred in taking the text literally. I prefer to take the text as I think Jesus really intended it. Jesus was more than a prophet of course, but he was at least that. How did prophets speak? We go to the Old Testament to find out.
2 Samuel 22 is one of my favorite passages to go to. Look at this song David sings about his lifetime.
7 “In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I called.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry came to his ears.
8 “Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations of the heavens trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
9 Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
10 He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
11 He rode on a cherub and flew;
he was seen on the wings of the wind.
12 He made darkness around him his canopy,
thick clouds, a gathering of water.
13 Out of the brightness before him
coals of fire flamed forth.
14 The Lord thundered from heaven,
and the Most High uttered his voice.
15 And he sent out arrows and scattered them;
lightning, and routed them.
16 Then the channels of the sea were seen;
the foundations of the world were laid bare,
at the rebuke of the Lord,
at the blast of the breath of his nostrils.
Search all you want through the life of David and you will not find this. You will not find YHWH hitching a ride on Gabriel and Michael and coming down Green Arrow style blasting the bad guys. You will not find the channels of the sea being seen and the foundations of the world laid bare. So either we believe that the writer of this text had to leave out one of the most amazing events in the life of David, or else that we are misunderstanding the way Jews speak if we take this literally.
Isaiah 13 is another such case.
9 Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it.
10 For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,
and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make people more rare than fine gold,
and mankind than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
in the day of his fierce anger.
14 And like a hunted gazelle,
or like sheep with none to gather them,
each will turn to his own people,
and each will flee to his own land.
15 Whoever is found will be thrust through,
and whoever is caught will fall by the sword.
16 Their infants will be dashed in pieces
before their eyes;
their houses will be plundered
and their wives ravished.
Now some of you might be tempted to think this is future, but wait. God says in the next verse that he is raising up the Medes against them. The Medes did eventually come and conquer Babylon. However, none of the stuff if taken literally happened as described.
“You consider yourself a lion of the nations,
but you are like a dragon in the seas;
you burst forth in your rivers,
trouble the waters with your feet,
and foul their rivers.
3 Thus says the Lord God:
I will throw my net over you
with a host of many peoples,
and they will haul you up in my dragnet.
4 And I will cast you on the ground;
on the open field I will fling you,
and will cause all the birds of the heavens to settle on you,
and I will gorge the beasts of the whole earth with you.
5 I will strew your flesh upon the mountains
and fill the valleys with your carcass.
6 I will drench the land even to the mountains
with your flowing blood,
and the ravines will be full of you.
7 When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens
and make their stars dark;
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
and the moon shall not give its light.
8 All the bright lights of heaven
will I make dark over you,
and put darkness on your land,
declares the Lord God.
This describes God’s judgment on Israel in the past. Again, the language is eerily similar to what we find in the Olivet Discourse. Once again, either we need to take it all literally or we need to try to understand the way ancient Jews spoke.
Ezekiel 39 has the following:
9 “Then those who dwell in the cities of Israel will go out and make fires of the weapons and burn them, shields and bucklers, bow and arrows, clubs and spears; and they will make fires of them for seven years, 10 so that they will not need to take wood out of the field or cut down any out of the forests, for they will make their fires of the weapons. They will seize the spoil of those who despoiled them, and plunder those who plundered them, declares the Lord God.
This kind of passage shows us that many prophecies were indeed for the near future. Many futurists interpret this as a great future battle. It will be an interesting one if we are using bows and arrows and shields and bucklers again. True, some prophecies had a long range far ahead into the future, but to read many dispensationalists today, you’d think the only times worth talking about were the time of Jesus and what is supposedly our time today.
So what is going on?
When the Jews spoke of intense political events, they often used cosmic language. War would be such an event. This kind of language was not meant to be literal. It was meant to indicate chaos on the realm of Earth as kings and others went to battle. The disciples would have understood that war was coming.
Don’t read the text like Tyson. Read it like a first-century Jew. If you do that and you read it as the language of warfare and judgment, then again, Jesus is still spot on. You are also being consistent with the prior first-century milleu found in the text.
But that’s one verse. What about others?
We’ll see when we get there.